Both Belafonte and Dandridge are appealing and talented actors, and their performances in the film are consistently enjoyable. Sadly, the voices of all the actors, with the exception of that of Pearl Bailey, who appears in a supporting role, have been replaced during the songs. These are all beautifully performed, but it is still unfortunate that LeVern Hutcherson's voice has been substituted for Belafonte's. Hutcherson is a talented singer, but there is something about the quality of his voice that does not appeal to me, while Belafonte's singing voice is one of my personal favorites.
The music the film's performers have been given to sing is Bizet's, but the opera's original libretto has been replaced by often execrable and unintentionally humorous lyrics. At various points in Carmen Jones, the moviegoer is thus treated to such gems as, "Big boy, remember, you must remember, 'Stan' up an' fight until you hear the bell. Stan' toe to toe. Trade blow for blow. Keep punchin' till you make your punches tell. Show that crowd what you know.'" Although the music itself is always enjoyable to hear, the distracting ludicrousness of such lines as these does, to a certain degree, diminish its beauty.
Like the film's music, its visual qualities either entrance the viewer or push him away. More often than not, the movie is genuinely appealing, even stunning, visually. Preminger repeatedly demonstrates his eye for composition in the wonderful framing and choreography of virtually every scene in the film. In fact, there is hardly a moment when Carmen Jones is not beautiful to watch. Unfortunately, the absence of close shots of the actors does hamper the movie's ability to draw the viewer into their world and does, consequently, detract from its emotive impact.
Even with such limitations, Carmen Jones is successful in evoking profound feelings of sorrow in the viewer as he watches Carmen and Joe race to their doom. He sees their passion, the maddening effects that passion have on Joe, and the terrible consequences of his ensuing madness for himself, Carmen, and his former sweetheart. I myself watched the film with a sense of foreboding, knowing Joe's love was driving him to actions hurtful to himself and others and that, because of his passion, he could not act in any other way.
Although both the music and cinematography are flawed, both are beautiful, capturing moments of profound happiness, joys whose sad consequences we know, and the terrible sorrows that inevitably follow. Whatever faults Carmen Jones has do not make it a bad movie, but they do keep a good movie from greatness.
Review by Keith Allen
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